Whiplash Injuries in Children
Whiplash injuries are very common amongst victims of road accidents but are usually associated with adults. However, children are also vulnerable to whiplash injuries (especially in car accidents) and their injuries need to be treated appropriately to ensure they recover as soon as possible and avoid any further complications.
A whiplash injury occurs when the head and neck are forcefully and suddenly thrown back and forth causing damage to the soft-tissue and ligaments in the neck. This can lead to pain in the neck, shoulders and back as well as dizziness, headaches, restricted movements and lack of concentration.
Although the quality of car seats for children these days is excellent, they do not go as far as preventing whiplash injuries altogether. It is important to ensure that you not only purchase a new, size appropriate car seat for your child but that you also ensure that it is entirely suitable and compatible with the vehicle (or vehicles) in which it is going to be used, and that it is correctly fitted. The size and type of car seat needed for your child will depend not so much on their age but more on their weight and height. If your child is too big or too small for the car seat in which they are sitting it is very likely that they will not be properly protected in the event of an accident. Current guidelines state that children should be placed in rear facing car seats for as long as their weight and height allows. Similarly, it is thought that the back of the car is generally safer than the front as the back seats are designed differently to the front, having reduced elasticity and smaller back rests. If your child’s car seat has a head restraint – or if your child sits on a booster seat and uses the main head restraint – it is extremely important that the restraint is correctly aligned. As with adults, the head restraint should sit as close to the back of the head as possible and the top of the restraint should not be lower than the top of the child’s head.
Children are more likely than, for example, men to sustain a whiplash injury which has been exacerbated by an air bag. This is because children (and often women) are shorter than men and when an airbag goes off during an accident it is more likely to be level with the child’s head, and may increase the force at which the head and neck are thrown back and forth. However, it is important to realise that air bags provide a vital role is saving lives during car accidents and, although they may exacerbate whiplash injuries on some occasions, the alternative of not having an air bag could lead to much more serious injuries than whiplash. However, air bags are not suitable for some smaller children and some types of car seats and it is important that you refer carefully to the specific instructions for your child’s car seat, and your own vehicle’s manual, to check whether an air bag should be switched on.
It is thought that the occurrence of whiplash injuries in children are less than the occurrence of the same injury in adults because of the fact that children have a greater range of movement and flexibility in their neck and back and they are also much less likely to have any pre-existing condition which may make a whiplash injury more likely.
If you think you child has suffered a whiplash injury it is important that you seek medical treatment for them as soon as possible from either your local A & E department or your GP.
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